In North Carolina, many Associations have covenants that prohibit “commercial vehicles” or “trucks.” In North Carolina, the top two best-selling vehicles and three of the top five vehicles in the state are pickup trucks. With the volume of pickups on North Carolina roads, and the number of truck-related covenants in place, the intersection is a common one to encounter, and the HOA is the traffic cop that is stationed at that intersection.
Recently in Florida, this intersection was the subject of a dispute between an HOA and a homeowner. The homeowner purchased a 2022 Rivian R1T, which recently was named MotorTrend’s Truck of the Year. The truck is a trendy, high-end, fully-electric pickup truck that has a $70,000 starting sticker price, can beat a Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro from 0-60, and can cost well over six-figures after available options. According to local media reports, the truck has touched off a wave of equal parts praise and consternation in the community, and has resulted in the homeowner being noticed by the HOA with a violation of the community’s restrictive covenants.
According to the Association’s violation notice, the applicable restrictive covenants prohibit “[t]rucks, …and/or commercial vehicles of any kind” which “are not permitted to be parked anywhere in the Association/Community except inside of your garage during overnight hours.” The Association has threatened fines, and even foreclosure due to the parking of the brand-new futuristic vehicle in the home’s driveway. The homeowner is currently fighting the Association’s enforcement efforts, and his attorney cites a 2001 Judgment that interpreted a similar covenant against the Association.
An Association with such covenants should approach them with a reasonable interpretation and a reasonable expectation of how a reviewing court would interpret such covenants. In general, North Carolina law instructs courts interpreting covenants that restrict land use to interpret such restrictions narrowly. This means that covenants that limit the type of vehicles parked on lots will be construed to give the favor of any ambiguity to a homeowner wanting to park a vehicle. That said, the 2009 Banbury Woods case in North Carolina interpreted a covenant in favor of the HOA that required “campers and all other similar property” to be parked out of view. The homeowner sought to store what the homeowner argued was a “motor home” on their lot (and that a “motor home” and “camper” are distinct/different). The Banbury court found in favor of the HOA, and that the distinction between a “camper” and “motor home” was nonexistent, after looking at dictionary definitions of the terms. The court also found that the Association was not unfairly targeting this specific homeowner and the Association had a past history of enforcing this same restriction in other similar circumstances.
ApplyingNorth Carolina law to a restriction similar to that in Florida would likely be dependent upon: (1) the clarity of the specific wording of the restriction, (2) the Association’s past practices in enforcing the restriction, (3) the general rule to narrowly interpret restrictions of land use, and (4) the intention of the original parties that enacted the agreements. In a typical restriction against “commercial vehicles” or “trucks” similar to the one at issue in Florida, in the absence of further clarity as to what “commercial” means, or what constitutes a “truck,” a North Carolina court would very likely hold in favor of the homeowner and their pickup truck, for several reasons.
- First, the original intent of a developer writing covenants would likely not be to put a restriction that would ban all owners of three of the five most popular vehicle models in the state, and reduce the number of potential lot purchasers.
- Secondly, the specific language used in such restrictions is usually broad, vague, ambiguous, and without further definition. Interpreting narrowly, a “commercial vehicle” or “truck” under such a standard is likely not going to include a standard Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, or other standard full-size, light-duty pickup.
- Third, even assuming that a court allows an HOA to regulate a standard pickup under such covenants, there is very likely to be a history of instances where the Association has not enforced such a covenant against a standard sized pickup truck. That past practice will then doom the Association’s attempts to more strictly enforce covenants that had been waived or disregarded in the past.
There are of course other possible restrictions that could apply to parking of vehicles, including those that prohibit parking on non-paved surfaces, prohibit street parking, or those prohibiting signage. Those restrictions would also be interpreted narrowly, but depending upon the specific language in the covenant and the specific facts, there may be a stronger basis for the Association to pursue enforcement of those covenants rather than those broadly prohibiting “commercial vehicles” or “trucks.”
For advice regarding covenant interpretation and enforcement matters, or if you have questions about any other community association (HOA or condo) issue, please contact a Law Firm Carolinas attorney at any of our six offices for assistance.